The beautiful arched bridge at Songgwangsa Temple.
Hello Again Everyone!!
Songgwangsa Temple, which means Spreading Pine Temple, in English, sits on the western slope of Mt. Jogyesan, in Jogyesan Provincial Park. Songgwangsa Temple was first constructed at the end of the Silla Dynasty in the late 1100’s. Bojo Guksa (1158-1210), otherwise known as Jinul, built the temple as a centre for furthering Buddhism studies. As one of the three treasure temples, Songgwangsa Temple represents the seung (monk). In 1969, the temple was reorganized as a monastic centre for all sects of Mahayana Buddhism, and it was also made an international meditation centre.
You first approach the temple up a long winding path that intersects some beautiful pine and cedar trees. This 15 minute walk that neighbours the Sinpyeong stream will take you past a beautiful wooden bridge and an artificial pond that is cloaked in colourful paper lanterns. You’ll know that you’re getting closer to the temple grounds when you come across a field of budos dedicated to former monks at Songgwangsa Temple.
Just to the left of the ancient Bulimun Gate is one of the most picturesque entrances to a Korean Buddhist temple in all of Korea. Protruding out of the Sinpyeong stream is a temple building, as well as the Woohwa-gak pavilion that spans the width of the stream. The mirror-like surface of the stream coupled with the dragon-based bridge make for quite the photo-op.
Having passed through the Woohwa-gak pavilion, you’ll make your way through the Cheonwangmun Gate with the Four Heavenly Kings inside. These recently refurbished statues make for quite the welcoming committee at the temple. It’s only after circumnavigating the Jonggo-ru Pavilion, which also acts as the temple’s bell pavilion on the second story, that you finally enter the main temple courtyard at Songgwangsa Temple.
Straight ahead is the beautiful Daeungbo-jeon main hall at Songgwangsa Temple. This massive main hall is beautifully packed with Buddhist artistry both inside and out. The wooden latticework is second-to-none, as are the various Buddhist themed murals like the one dedicated to Wonhyo’s awakening. As for the interior, and sitting on the main altar, are seven golden statues. Sitting in the centre of the set is Birojana-bul (The Buddha of Cosmic Energy). He’s joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). To the right of this triad is Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha) and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And to the left sit Yeondeung-bul (The Past Buddha) and Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
The other buildings you can enjoy to the right of the main hall, and open to the public, are the Jijang-jeon, Yeongsan-jeon, and the Yaksa-jeon. Both the Yeongsan-jeon and the Yaksa-jeon are extremely small in size. While the Yaksa-jeon is dedicated to the Buddha of Medicine, the Yeongsan-jeon is a hall dedicated to eight paintings from the Buddha’s life. As for the Jijang-jeon, this cavernously wide hall houses a green-haired seated statue of Jijang-bosal, as well as the Ten Kings of the Underworld. As for the murals that adorn this hall’s exterior walls, they are amazing in their masterful beauty.
As for the buildings to the left of the main hall, there’s the beautiful Seungbo-jeon, which is the very embodiment of the “seung” aspect that Songgwangsa Temple stands for as a treasure temple. The exterior walls are beautifully adorned with some amazing renderings of the Ox-Herding murals. Sitting inside this hall are row upon row of smaller sized golden monk statues. As for the main altar inside this hall, there sits a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha).
In total, and rather remarkably, there have been some 16 national masters that had once studied at Songgwangsa Temple. In fact, the first of these, Jinul, has a budo dedicated to him behind the Gwaneeum-jeon. This budo dates back to 1213, and you get a commanding view of the more than 50 buildings at Songgwangsa Temple. As for the Gwaneeum-jeon hall itself, it’s beautifully surrounded on all sides by lush gardens. Sitting inside this hall is a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal sitting all alone on the main altar. She is surrounded on all sides by beautiful murals, as well as a dragon altar that completely engulfs her.
Admission to the temple is 3,000 won.
HOW TO GET THERE: From Suncheon, there is city bus #111 or an intercity bus from Suncheon to Songgwangsa Temple. Both are roughly 3,000 won. Also, from Jeonju, you can take local bus #806, #814 or #838 to Songgwangsa Temple.
OVERALL RATING: 9/10. Songgwangsa Temple is beautifully situated in the mountain folds of Mt. Jogyesan. Its beautiful entry that spans the Sinpyeong stream with its dragon-based bridge is a feat of Buddhist artistry. With its numerous halls like the massive Daeungbo-jeon and Seungbo-jeon, Songgwangsa Temple has a little of everything for everyone.